Your job as a stand-in is not done when you hear “Thank you, second team.” As long as you’re not doing double duty as a background actor, once you’re excused from set, you begin your study of changes in your actor’s blocking.

Where to Study Your Principal Actor

When you are studying your principal actor, you will want to avoid being in the actor’s eyeline when the actor is rehearsing or doing takes. This typically means that in order to notice changes in the blocking, you will need to watch your actor from monitors behind the scenes.

Any given set will have a number of monitors available to the crew. There may be dedicated monitors for the DP, for the director and script supervisor, and for the rest of the crew like hair, makeup, and wardrobe. The sound department will typically have their own monitor(s) on the sound cart as well.

While the situation may vary from set to set, usually it is best for stand-ins to watch takes from the monitors used by either hair, makeup, wardrobe, et al., or the sound department. If this is not very practical, you might watch from the director’s or the DP’s monitors, but you would usually do this from afar where you can’t obstruct the view or interfere with their work.

Ben’s Tip #1!
Given the importance of everyone’s job, as a stand-in you want to be mindful of others’ views of the monitors when you are watching. If you stand with your chest facing the monitors, your full body may be blocking the view of another crew member behind you. When the monitors are crowded, if you stand with your body sideways to the monitors and watch the monitors from over your shoulder, you make it easier for more eyes to view the monitor.

When you are doing background work at the same time as standing in, it may be physically and practically impossible to watch your actor’s blocking, in which case there’s not really much you can do; the camera department may clue you in to changes when you return to standing in. In the rare event a crew member gives you a hard time about not knowing changes in the blocking, quickly and politely explain you were working background in the scene and couldn’t watch the takes. If it helps alleviate any problem, also inform an AD or the background PA of the conflict of interest in doing stand-in work in the scene in case the production wants to swap you out of background to let you watch your actor’s blocking.

What to Watch For During Takes

As you are watching the monitors, you will want to watch what actually happens onscreen. While blocking may stay essentially the same from take to take, often enough little changes in the blocking crop up that may be meaningful to the camera department. Of course, significant changes in blocking can also occur. A few examples of changes include:

  • The actor may add a movement during a take that was not marked in marking rehearsal.
  • The actor may add a look or body position that was not rehearsed.
  • The actor may sequentially handle particular props, or even handle props in new sequences from take to take.
  • The actor may add texture to the performance by cumulatively adding blocking details from one take to the next.
  • The actor may adjust timing and blocking off of the lines and blocking of other actors in the scene.
  • Whole chunks of blocking may be added or omitted after the marking rehearsal or the second-team rehearsal.
  • Etc.

When you are asked to step back in to stand in, having knowledge of these changes will keep you up to speed with the camera crew and DP, since they will already be intimately involved with these changes from the takes they’ve just seen and filmed.

Ben’s Tip #2!
As you are watching the monitors, it may aid you as you watch each take to go over the blocking as it unfolds during a take. Sometimes I will softly pantomime during the take the actor’s specific blocking so that I can develop my muscle memory of the blocking. Other times I will play prediction games with myself, telling myself a “play by play” of what blocking the actor will do next. (“He’s going to close the door, sit down, pick up the phone, dial a number, …”) Both of these silent methods help me to develop my expertise over the principal actor’s blocking.

The Monitors Don’t Tell All

When you’re watching from the monitors, you can’t see everything that actually happened during the shot. From the monitors, you may have trouble distinguishing actual marks the actor lands on, depths the actor travels, or changes in the actor’s eyeline. Blocking may have shifted or morphed but you might not have noticed it.

Try your best to come with the knowledge of what you saw on the monitors when you step back in as second team. However, don’t hesitate to ask a blocking question or two if something was unclear to you from the monitors. While you are the expert on your actor’s blocking, you aren’t omniscient. The camera operator may politely clue you in to changes you didn’t catch. Your relationship with the camera department will probably be better if you regularly demonstrate that you keep pace with the actor’s changes in blocking without their having to tell you every change.

So You’ve Seen Enough?

While technically it is important to watch every take your principal actor does to note changes in blocking, as you do more coverage and angles on the same scene, blocking tends to change less and less. This may mean you come to a point at which you’ve basically got the scene down pat. In such a case, you probably can relax … keeping in mind you could be called back to set at any moment and asked what the actor did blockingwise in the scene.